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News + PoliticsNo Suhr, No Sir!

No Suhr, No Sir!

Perhaps the killing of Mario Woods and countless other people of color by police is a need, a craving, an addiction to uphold white supremacy

A bust of former Mayor Dianne Feinstein carries the message of the protest
A bust of former Mayor Dianne Feinstein carries the message of the protest

By Tony Robles

DECEMBER 29, 2015 — I am Filipino and black, I am black and Filipino.  My blood is rooted in the Fillmore and Bayview.  Black lives matter, black homes matter, black voices matter, black love matters, black hearts matter—yet if you are black in San Francisco, you are keenly aware that your life does not matter—that your history is in a perpetual state of being erased from the city landscape.

I was one of many thousands of people who witnessed the murder of Mario Woods by San Francisco Police on the streets of the Bayview. Through cellphone footage, we witnessed another young brother taken down, killed as if it were predestined or an absolute necessity.

Perhaps the killing of Mario Woods and countless other people of color by police is a need, a craving, an addiction to uphold white supremacy and its inherent disgust, disregard, devaluation, and disdain for poor black and brown people in a violent manifest destiny over the domain of our bodies. One need not be a so-called expert on such matters—one need not have a degree or qualification in sociology, criminal justice or other profession whose title ends in “ology.” One needs only a portal of sensitivity and insight to prevail over the culture of hatred and brutality we find ourselves steeped in in San Francisco.

I was among hundreds of outraged San Franciscans who gathered in front of city hall on Christmas even to call for the firing of Police Chief Greg Suhr for the actions of his officers that resulted in the death of Mario Woods.  One by one, people spoke out on the shooting of Woods—execution style—expressing outrage at the justification offered by Suhr that his officers were threatened, prompting them to open fire on Woods. The cellphone footage clearly shows Woods walking slumped along the side of a building—at a distance from the officers—whose guns were drawn and aimed at him.

A young African American man spoke, saying he was “Tired of being treated like an animal,” and described the ongoing harassment he has endured at the hands of the Oakland Police Department for a crime he had nothing to do with. As more people spoke of their experiences with law enforcement while being black, I felt the spirits of those who have been violated, those voices omitted from police reports that never had a chance to speak, their pain and voices breaking through the clouds hovering above city hall and invoking the words of the poet Marvin White:  Being black and dead means your death calls all black deaths into question. Being black and dead means you cannot rest in peace until the living hears the dead calling for justice and learns the names of the unnamed dead.

An elder from the Longshore Workers’ union reminded us of the insidious origin of the police, that its progenitor was the institution of slavery—that the police evolved from slave catchers who were entrusted with the duty of returning slaves whose only crime was the quest for freedom.

A young sister from the Bayview urged the community to “unshackle your minds, and do not believe the police narrative that is filled with mistruths, cover ups and outright intimidation across the country.” A brother representing the faith community decried the lack of leadership by Mayor Ed Lee in addressing the killing of Woods, asserting that SF could have—in light of police killings that have already transpired in the city, not to mention across the country—introduced reforms to address the issue of police killings of people of color that would send a message that black lives and brown lives matter.

The crowd chanted “No Suhr, No Sir!” in calling for the firing of the chief.  Other speakers, including Mission activist Roberto Hernandez, drew the connection between black and brown victims of police violence, citing that the killing of Alex Nieto and Amilcar Perez Lopez by police is inextricably linked to gentrification, displacement of communities of color and the widening economic inequality that plagues the city.

The issue of racist text messages was brought up and a judge’s ruling that no disciplinary action would be taken against the officers involved. The texts made vile and disparaging references to Blacks, Latinos and Filipinos—referring to Filipinos as “Those dirty flips.”

The bullying by the Police Officers Association was addressed.  The president of the union sent a harshly toned letter chiding Supervisor Malia Cohen for questioning the actions of the department and calling for accountability. The letter—that has been widely circulated in the community—accused Cohen of being disrespectful of the men and women who wear the uniform.

Is that right?  What about the respect for the black community that wears its story, its history, its pain in its skin, a story and history that includes economic and police violence that one cannot remove as if extricating oneself from a blue uniform? Black officers of the SFPD who were present at the rally denounced the letter, indicating that the POA does not represent them or their concerns.

The rally ended with a march inside City Hall to the mayor’s office.  The crowd filed through the door and past the sheriff’s deputies, up the stairs to Mayor Lee’s office—that was absent of the mayor himself. One of the deputies, an African American man, was visibly uncomfortable in midst of the procession. More speakers spoke and vowed to keep fighting for the removal of Chief Suhr and for accountability in the police department.

As I stood in solidarity, I recalled a march I took part in with tenants and housing activists to Mayor Lee’s house to demand that he devote more resources to keep people—particularly the black community—in their homes and not fall prey to rampant evictions and real estate speculation.

The mayor wasn’t there on that day either.

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39 COMMENTS

  1. get your facts straight; until you do, please don’t insult people with “lowlife thugs” that expression has now become commonplace with the vilest of name- calling

  2. Haven’t you ever heard of prosecutors going after anyone just to secure a conviction? Innocent people go to jail and are freed decades later due to DNA evidence all the time. Funny coincidence that they are almost all minorities….

  3. MKR, you say that but offer no evidence for it.

    It’s very possible that cops shoot more blacks than whites. But if blacks are more likely to get themselves into those situations then that discrepancy has no significance to the point you are trying to make.

  4. If you don’t remember what was happening during the 2007 to 2008 period it was very scary. Virtually every small business in the US, and many large businesses were on the verge of collapse. Unemployment was 9% and rising. The credit markets froze up all over the world. The election of Obama was more a referendum against the de-regulatory policies of the Bush administration as well votes against the Iraq war. i think almost any reasonably qualified Democratic candidate would have been elected. The fact that he was a young, handsome, multi racial candidate contributed to the “Obama phenomenon” but that is not the reason he was elected.

    Even if you attempt to live a decent productive life you could still get in trouble with the police for a minor offense or you could get framed or targeted or get involved with the wrong people. Its largely luck. And people are always treated differently because of their ethnic backgrounds, not just by the American police. Oprah Winfrey got snubbed by a sales clerk in a luxury handbag store when she asked to look at a $40,000 handbag because the clerk figured she couldn’t afford it. People will always be judged by their appearance to some extent. In my opinion this kid should not have messed with the police, but if he had been white they might not have killed him either.
    It’s an op-ed piece. Feel free to disagree.

  5. It wasn’t a punishment. It was a response to what appeared to be a direct and imminent threat.

    Again, do you have any evidence that the cops would have behaved differently if the perp had been white?

  6. In my opinion, one of Obama’s qualifications was the likelihood that his election would hasten the development of a post-racial society, based on his declaring that there’s “No black America, no white America.” I voted for him twice on that basis — the second time, partly as a rebuke to those Republicans who’d tried to trip him up and annihilate that vision. In that regard, I’m obviously far from alone.

    I don’t think the police should be able to kill anyone just because they don’t act appropriately. Nonetheless, I also believe that life matters because of how it’s lived, so it’s hard for me to get worked up in support of the victims in question (who contributed to their own fate), and I question the priorities of those who’ve made this their cause.

  7. Obama got over 90% of the black vote so I would hazard a guess that race was a factor for at least some voters, even though we all know that race is a biological fiction that doesn’t really exist.

    If you wish to claim the police are too violent then that case can be made without playing race cards all over the place.

  8. MKR, the police have the authority to give you orders and to take various actions if you refuse and/or act in a hostile manner. You have the right to silence but not to non-cooperation.

    From what I saw of the Woods video he committed three very specific errors:

    1) He was insubordinate
    2) He appeared to be seeking to escape arrest for a prior violent felony
    3) He moved towards a cop with a knife.

    If a white guy had done the same three things he would also have been shot. If a black guy had dropped the knife and surrendered he would have not been shot. This entire issue is not about race but about bad behavior.

  9. In my opinion Obama was elected because of his qualifications. If you think the police should be able to kill anyone who doesn’t act appropriately then you and I will never agree on anything.

  10. So Obama was elected because his mother was white, and those who voted for him were thinking they were electing “just another white President”? If that’s what you (expect me to) believe, I have a bridge to sell you.

    I agree with your implicit suggestion that “race” is a fiction — but then, so much for specifying that “*Black* Lives Matter”? You can’t have it both ways.

    Your point might’ve been stronger had you pointed out that Obama — despite his having been elected President — would otherwise still be seen as black, and thereby would more likely be mistreated in any encounter with a cop.

    This begs the question, however. As I’ve noted, in every one of those cases highlighted by BLM, the would-be “martyr” acted in what I would have deemed an utterly inappropriate manner had I been in a similar situation.

    I’d hazard a guess that Obama would act in a manner more like my own. That makes all the difference — for better or worse, even life-or-death.

    As I’ve said, life matters for how it’s lived, not for its color. If that’s the slogan of an Uncle Tom, the world needs more Uncle Toms.

  11. I was responding specifically to your comment, “I don’t believe your assertion that black people provoke police violence by their behavior to a greater extent than whites.”

    Whether the police respond appropriately to such provocation is another question.

  12. You think you would deserve to die if you defy a police officer? What if some cop says to me “Give me your wallet and take off your clothes” and I say “f-ck you asshole” do I deserve to die for this? Arrest the people sure. But if the cops can’t manage to arrest someone without killing the person we really have problems.

  13. How do you classify someone as black or white? Obama’s mother was a WASP woman who happened to like exotic men and married a man from Africa. Obama classifies himself as African American but he could also be classified as just another white president. There is no clearly defined international standard which can be used to define ethnicity. Is someone from Australia Asian if their ancestors lived there for 300 years? Or must you have lived in Asia for 10,000 years of ancestry to be classified as Asian? Africa is the largest continental land mass in the world with over one billion people and they don’t consider themselves to be united in ethnic origin. Someone from Kenya could have as many genetic differences from a Liberian as someone from Kenya and Northern Europe.

    Juries in the United states rarely convict police officers. Everyone knows this. There is an assumption that if you get in trouble with the police you are doing something wrong. Just like people used to think if a woman was raped she must have been asking for it.

  14. I can’t speak for all so-called white people, but I can speak for myself. In every one of those cases highlighted by BLM — Sandra Bland refusing to put her cigarette out and mouthing off to the cop, the guy bolting from his car during a routine traffic stop, Mario Woods with his knife, etc. — the would-be “martyr” acted in what I would have deemed an utterly inappropriate manner (i.e., as provocative, looking for trouble) HAD I BEEN IN THE SAME SITUATION.

    What’s going on here?

  15. That says more about the juries that convicted and sentenced them. If you claim that this, in turn, is because the US is an overwhelmingly racist country, how do you explain the election of Obama?

    If you claim Obama was elected because he was an Uncle Tom, I would dare to suggest that the African-American community could stand well to have a lot more Uncle Toms.

  16. It may be possible that US cops use :too much force”. They certainly use more force than police forces in other parts of the world. That said there is more violent crime here and the criminals are more likely to be armed.

    You misunderstand my assertion. My point is that it is important to look at the behaviors of a particular demographic when looking at how the police respond to that same demographic. The cops do not shoot many white grandmothers. Is that because of how cops feel towards white grandmothers or is it because white grandmothers rarely get in those kinds of situations in the first place.

    I am asking questions rather than making assumptions.

  17. You can’t prove what would have happened. The police use too much force in our society against everyone. I don’t believe your assertion that black people provoke police violence by their behavior to a greater extent than whites.

  18. “Treat differently” is a broad category. If blacks “behave differently” when participating in the criminal justice system then it isn’t necessarily shocking if the outcomes are also different.

    The point here, however, and taking the Woods example since it is topical, is whether SFPD would have NOT shot Woods if he had been white but behaving exactly the same.

    And that has not been proven even though Robles casually insinuates it. If blacks statistically get involved in more violent confrontations with the cops then they are more likely to be on the receiving end of adverse police tactics.

  19. There have been many thousands of statistically accurate studies about the use of police force and brutality in the United States and they overwhelmingly show that the police treat black suspects differently than white suspects. Look at all of the people who have been released after spending decades on death row after DNA evidence proves their innocence and you will see that they are almost all black people

  20. But the question of whether the police use too much force is a different question than whether they use that force differently depending on your race.

    Robles implies the latter but makes no real effort to prove it.

  21. Thats not really what this was about. Black lives should not have any more or less value than the lives of white, brown Asian people, or those of any other ethnicity. But if the police can kill anyone with impunity then we might as well be in Saudi Arabia. Does any crime carry the death penalty now? According to the way justice is administered at will by the American police it may as well in many cases.
    Sure people shouldn’t run red lights, commit robberies or defy police officers. But the police should not be able to kill anyone they want at any time either

  22. It is always easier to blame others for our problems than to face up to our own shortcomings.

    Robles would be more convincing if he lost all the anger and emotion and instead focused on the facts. What percentage of blacks get caught up in violent confrontations with the police as a function of the percentage participation of blacks in violent crime generally?

  23. If it had been me instead of Michael Brown brutalizing that
    convenience-store clerk (himself a person of color) — or if that had been me rather than Mario Woods wielding a knife — my parents would have been ashamed to show their faces in public afterward. Moreover, I was raised to realize that; those are my values.

    Why is a “movement” seeking vengeance (“justice”) on behalf of such thugs now being promoted as the primary expression of African-American identity? Remarkably, in every one of these cases, the problem hasn’t only been the cop.

    America fought a bloody civil war (indeed, its bloodiest war ever) to eliminate the scourge of slavery — overturning atrocities like the Dred Scott decision. Black people are no longer slaves, and haven’t been slaves for over 150 years. Now we’re being told that today’s cops “evolved from slave catchers.” What’s going on here?

    Over those long years since, millions of immigrants — many themselves oppressed (ancestors of the preponderance of today’s Americans) — have come to these shores and have struggled to succeed, with no animus against blacks. We’ve twice elected a President (still the incumbent, and himself, incidentally, black) who declared that “There’s no black America, no white America” — arguably because we shared that self-concept and that vision. Now we’re told that it’s racist simply to declare that “All lives matter.” What’s going on here?

    Amid all the current talk of “black bodies,” we need to recognize one simple truth: life matters for how it’s lived, not for its color.

    If that were “the talk” ALL parents gave their kids, all of us — especially those kids — would be a lot better off.

  24. Irregardless of the police conduct, and this tragic situation… it’s apparently never a great idea to trust a Longshoreman Workers Union “elder” for a history lesson.

    Thankfully this has not been a daily event in the Bayview, no matter how insane the police have acted, or how wild the streets were at one time. Police left too long in the hot box can snap or use poor judgement, that is inexcusable, but how does it help our communities or the civil servants we depend on, to add the weight of 160 years of racial oppression on their backs and try to discuss that instead?

  25. In our society even a lowlife thug deserves a fair trial. Do you think that Mario Woods deserved what he got? SFPD is dangerously behind the times in its use of force policy and probably in a lot of other areas too.

  26. Yeah, tell that to the parents of Sandra Blount , or to the family of Freddie Gray who was murdered by Baltimore police after being arrested on a minor charge, or to the family of Laquan McDonald or the other many victims in America who may have had minor skirmishes with the police or who have been arrested on false charges or because the cop was pissed off, and end up dead. The police in our country can murder with impunity in most cases, the same as the military.

    Its not always the lowlife thugs that get in trouble with the police, and even if they do does that give the cops the right to administer the death penalty just because they feel like it or because someone is running away from them? You must be kidding. If some cop stops you for a minor traffic violation and you end up losing your life you won’t tell the same story.

  27. There a more upstanding citizens of color be they Latino, Asian or Black that do not have trouble with SF police, it’s the lowlife thugs that do.
    Get your facts straight.

  28. In 2012 several San Francisco Police Officers exchanged racist and homophobic text messages. They did not face discipline and were allowed to keep their jobs. Why? A Superior Court judge ruled the Police Department waited too long to address the misconduct allegations, ignoring a one-year statute of limitations for any personnel probe, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-sf-cops-who-exchanged-racist-homophobic-text-message-will-keep-jobs-20151222-story.html

    In San Francisco we have no one Leading the fight against corruption, and monitoring our police, lawmakers, courts, and government leaders keep them honest.
    How do we fix this? San Francisco needs a Public Advocate who’ s works independently of the Mayor, Police, and City Supervisors. When local government fails to work on behalf of citizens we can in a Public Advocate to investigate and resolve public sector corruption. This video explains how the public advocate service the people by balancing the powers of City Government https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJyRrg9ReY0

  29. We had a beat cop in North Beach who was kind, intelligent, effective and seemed to know everyone. He retired earlier this year.

    I agree that Suhr should resign. What is shocking to me is the apparent acceptance that things can’t be changed. More than getting rid of Suhr, we need to re-write our policies regarding law enforcement personnel so that there is never any doubt of wrong doing in cases like the killing of Woods.

  30. The kind of officers that jthomas09 recalls do exist. But we need more of them. There should be a Citizens Review Board that represents the multiracial, multiethnic diversity of the city. And it should have clout! We need more training, both before police are sworn in, and ongoing. There should be intensive training on how to defuse situations. Officers need to be trained to communicate in a respectful and constructive manner to deescalate situations. In the Woods case, I don’t see how the officers were in danger of their lives. The problem is not only racism, but guns and a culture of violence.

  31. The first question to ask is what type of person wants to put themselves in a position to kill someone? Whatever happened to the kindly officer who knew everyone in the neighborhood on a first-name basis? Is there any psychological screening or drug testing before or during their service? Do cops believe their job is to “protect and serve” or “shoot first, ask questions later?”

    Suhr should have resigned for the racist/homophobic text scandal, just as Mirkirimi should have resigned for the “gladiator school” scandal.

    Mario Woods Protesters Demand Suhr Be Fired!: http://sco.lt/5kZr3x

    People’s Press Conference For Mario Woods: https://youtu.be/XoUkJHyoHSw

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No Suhr, No Sir!

Perhaps the killing of Mario Woods and countless other people of color by police is a need, a craving, an addiction to uphold white supremacy
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